9/11 as an excuse to say stupid things.

January 10, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More

I work in a big office building located in downtown St. Louis, the “Bank of America Plaza.” Early this week, I was interviewed for a newspaper article, and I needed an updated photo of myself. A coworker offered to snap that photo using a small digital camera. We want down the elevator to the first floor public lobby of the building, at street level, where we found a large neutral colored wall that we could use as a backdrop for my photo. I stood in front of the wall and my coworker stood about 10 feet away from me. As she took a photo of me a security guard suddenly approached.

Photo by Erich Vieth

Guard: “Sir, you are not allowed to take photographs in the lobby.”

Me: “In the lobby? In a public lobby?”

Guard: “You may not take any pictures here. It’s because of 9/11 and homeland security.”

Me: “I understand that your employers have instructed you to say these sorts of things, but what you have just told me is about the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. My coworker is simply trying to take a picture of me in front of a wall.”

Guard: “Sir you cannot continue doing this. You will need to take pictures elsewhere.”

We left. Apparently, taking pictures of me threatens the United States. Or maybe the threat was taking a picture of the wall behind me. Certainly, the guard made it clear that the building owners prohibit any sort of photos in the lobby. We walked across the street and threatened the United States by taking my photo inside the lobby of an office building across the street, where friendly security guards don’t appreciate the risk of what we were doing. Instead, they naively laughed at our stories about security guards in my own office building.

That same night, I spoke to yet another security guard at the Bank of America building, explaining how that first guard had commanded me to stop taking pictures in the lobby because it purportedly threatened “homeland security” and it was because of “9/11.” This second guard politely and sincerely repeated the prohibition. “The rules in this building prohibit anyone from taking any photographs. In fact, we had a big Christmas tree in the lobby over the past few weeks, and we had to keep stopping people from taking pictures of the Christmas tree.”

I’m convinced that when it comes to security, people in the United States are lunatics. We are so traumatized by the fear that has been drummed into us by FOX et al, that we have tunnel vision. We have no sense of proportion. We’ve lost our common sense. How could anyone possibly think that a photograph in a public lobby is a threat to “homeland security?” This episode makes me wonder whether the real problem is that half of my building was occupied by paranoid bank executives, a demographic that has inflicted disproportionate economic damage on the United States, yet who have immunized themselves from Congressional reform thanks to their massive economic clout. But I digress.

You’ve probably also encountered some of these security guards and police officers who boss us around, claiming that they are protecting us from “9/11” or “homeland security?” Some of them people know that they are spouting BS and they can’t even look you in the eyes when they spout their nonsense. Many of the others utter these excuses with glazed eyes and they speak in an almost religious tone; they seem to want to believe that Middle Eastern men lurk behind every corner.

Look, there are certain things that we need to do in the name of adequate security. I truly admire many of the measures we’ve invoked since 9/11. But I’m also concerned about the silly commands and excuses uttered by over-zealous people wearing badges and by over-zealous and opportunistic politicians. It’s time that they admitted a few things: A) Most of us are not in any danger from terrorists most of the time. B) We will eventually suffer another terrorist attack and we will need to deal with it, and C) We need to take a deep breath and keep things in perspective.  Terrorism is one of many threats we face every day.

So why is it that so many people insist that we are constantly in such danger?  I would suggest that they want to convince us that the problem is that terrorists are dangerous, to serve as a smokescreen for the truth: We have brought on many of our problems because we have often acted stupidly.

The 9/11 attackers were not nearly as dangerous as they are often touted to be by conservatives. It was a small group of somewhat clever guys who caused massive damage to the United States. But how was it that outsiders were able to enter airplane cockpits during flights back in 2001? They were four-for-four in entering those cockpits on 9/11. It is inexplicable that the U.S. failed to anticipate that a terrorist would carry out a suicide mission–they should have had sturdy doors and strict procedures for who may enter. How many hundreds or thousands of security specialists were on the government payroll to supposedly protect us from aviation terrorism back in 2001,  yet they failed to consider that terrorists might force open a cockpit door and use the plane as a missile in a suicide mission. It was only after 9/11 that we had the inspiration to enact this requirement:

No person may conduct any operation unless the following equipment is installed in the airplane . . . (f) A door between the passenger and pilot compartments (i.e., flightdeck door), with a locking means to prevent passengers from opening it without the pilot’s permission . . .

What was the law prior to 9/11?

Flightcrew Compartment Door Designs  Flightcrew compartment doors on transport category airplanes have been designed principally to ensure privacy, so pilots could focus their entire attention to their normal and emergency flight duties. The doors have not been designed to provide an impenetrable barrier between the cabin and the flightcrew compartment. Doors have not been required to meet any significant security threat, such as small arms fire or shrapnel, or the exercise of brute force to enter the flightcrew compartment.

So, prior to 2001, we apparently we put locks on the cockpit doors to make sure that passengers didn’t accidentally stumble into the cockpit thinking that it was the lavatory.  If that were true, why have a lock at all?  Why not just post a sign saying “The pilots are flying the plane in here.  Please don’t bother them.”

How should we deal with the fact that our failure to think ahead enabled a dozen terrorists with a modest amount of intelligence, and armed with box-cutters, to cause the death thousands of Americans?  How do you explain that for months following 9/11, passengers were not allowed to bring their fingernail clippers onto airplanes, as if someone with a fingernail clipper might attack someone?  How do you explain that we need to spend time at the beginning each flight that it is a crime tot destroy the smoke detector in the lavatory?  Last year, the guard told me that I could not bring a piano tuner wrench on the flight.  It was confiscated because it he said it was a “tool.”  It was about 9″ long and it looked like this.

After the 9/11 attacks, one approach would have been for our politicians and aviation experts to step up and admit that they screwed up by not protecting the cockpit with a strong locking door and ironclad procedures. Good and decent people admit their errors. Instead, our leaders and law enforcement continually reinforced the argument that terrorists are dangerous. That don’t-blame-me approach is an attempt to deflect blame, but it is also a great excuse for a politician interested in ramping up the defense budget. We need lots more people and expensive purchases to fight terrorism, they say, not smarter people. We need a “war” on terrorism, even though the U.S. and its allies already spend almost three-fourths of the total amount the world’s countries spend on their militaries. Hence the ubiquitous use of the word “terror,” the ever increasing military and homeland security budgets, the massive neglect of the American infrastructure and educational system, and the decision to finance huge needless wars with borrowed Chinese money. Don’t you dare call us stupid! We are fighting dangerous terrorists and they are everywhere! We need to torture “them.” You can tell where they are because they are where we choose to drop our bombs.

I can imagine at this point some conservatives will protest that I’m downplaying the threat of terrorism, and that and that people wearing badges are well advised to tell us to stop taking photos of Christmas trees.

They might also might want to remind me that there are rogue nations who really have nuclear bombs, justifying bombing Iran too. I would remind these folks that this country is still cleaning up from a decades-long Cold War where our sworn enemy, the Soviet Union, had thousands of inter-ballistic nuclear warheads aimed directly at the United States. Those nuclear weapons were almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis,  and many of those warheads are still in existence. My point is that we dealt with that risk all through the Cold War, and, again, Russia still has thousands of these weapons. Even in the face of 45,000 Soviet nuclear warheads in 1986, the people of the United States did not self implode, and we did not arbitrarily spy on thousands of Americans. We

Wikimedia Commons

recognized that an attack on America was a risk, but that it needed to be considered along with many ordinary risks that we each face every day, such as the risk of death in an automobile accident, of which there are almost 50,000 every year in the United States.  Or the fact that 40,000 Americans needlessly die of colon cancer or rectal cancer every year.  Compare that to the 3,000 people who died on 9/11. Consider that deaths due to terrorism don’t show up at all on this list of the most common preventable causes of death in the United States.  And consider that we allow the sale of tobacco, which kills 400,000 Americans every year—but of course, that version of evil has a strong lobby in Washington D.C.   And consider that we’ve killed hundreds of our own soldiers by sending them on a mission without a military plan. And we’ve killed large numbers of Afghanistan citizens in order to protect ourselves from fewer than 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But then again, the military industrial complex also has a huge lobby in Washington D.C.

And remember why we are in Afghanistan? Why are we squandering America’s future to fund a war over there?  We supposedly need to fight them over there so that we don’t need to fight them over here—which is probably the stupidest thing ever said about our “war on terrorism.  Here’s one example from the mouth of George W. Bush:

We are fighting these terrorists with our military in Afghanistan and Iraq and beyond so we do not have to face them in the streets of our own cities.”

–October 25, 2004.

Even though we are fighting our immensely expensive wars “over there,” we are nonetheless groping 80-year-old ladies at our airports to protect us from “them” over here and we are barking at people who are trying to take pictures Christmas trees in the lobbies of office buildings.

How stupid are we? Maybe the better question is how crazy have we made ourselves. Or maybe the best question is how can we cure people of this craziness, so that we can get some perspective.


Category: ignorance, Military, Politics, Risks and Dangers, snake oil, Statistics, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Jim Razinha says:

    We obviously didn't learn anything from the Red scares in the 1920s and 1950s and things are worse the third time around. I watched from 7000 miles away as the administration that took over in 2001 ramped up the fear factor every chance it got ("oops, slipping in the polls, sir"…"what should I do Karl? go Orange again?")and worried that when I came back the seeds of too much fear-mongering would have germinated and taken hold. In that time, Glenn Beck has supplanted Sean Hannity as the Head nutcase in charge of inanity over at my favorite "news" outlet, and people still listen to Limbaugh. I said scary times in an earlier comment? Scary on an increasing slope.

  2. Mindy says:

    Geez, Erich – how can you not see that when you take your photo to Walgreen's to be developed (because that's what Jared Loughner did with his self-porn-traits) or worse, for God's sake, post it on line, terrorists will be lining up to closely examine that picture? They will obviously be able to use it to figure out the entire infrastructure of the building, which they will then use to bring it down. Unbelievable that you are so cavalier about this very real threat. Obviously, you have not watched enough FOX. Get thee to their website immediately.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Mindy: It was pointed out to me later that building plans are filed with City Hall. There's undoubtedly terrorists lurking in the HVAC systems of most buildings.

  3. DE Teodoru says:

    Due to a spade of skyjackings in 1970s two rules were made: (a) two sky-marshals on each plane and (b) the pilot's cabin MUST be impenetrable through flight. Of course, this was never enforced as pilot's cabin door is ALWAYS left open. On 9/11 an airline exec told a morning news show that First Class passengers pay a lot of money for their seats so they have a right to see that someone human is flying the plane. Hubris and imbecility has long characterized American corporate execs! As a result of, not only not locking the doors but also holding them open through out the flight in violation of FAA rules, four jumbo airliners were taken over in about 10 minutes each. That is the single most important fact to recall about 9/11. Then, consider that binLaden was hoping to destroy America's economy with the destruction of the World Trade Center. He failed; yet, our flag waving Wall Streeters did a better job of it than he would have ever dared to dream.

    Key thing to remember is that, buffered by the American Dream of getting something for nothing, America's Golden Age is over at the hands of myopic and imbecilic Wall Street geniuses. 9/11 was followed by a Bush-it Administration that demonstrated that we are ruled, not only by larcenous people, but imbeciles blinded by avarice. Our leaders have become as simple-minded as the commercials with which they direct our lives. I recall the 1960s attempt to go to the moon. High standards of tech/sci savvy made America unbeatable. But with the end of the Cold War, our corporatists assumed that the Communist threat was gone and they, not the American nation, were having their "unipolar moment." With that, the best & brightest decided to go where money was plentiful and easy rather than where high standards were demanded. With the end of conscription, based on attitude: "ain't my kid going to war," Americans gave a blank check to the corporatists and the Bush-it-ers.

    WE have met the enemy and he is not binLaden (deceased), he is us, the fools who let the greedy myopic parasites drink our blood. Ironically, an American trying to get by 0n #30,000/yr resents one making $50,000, asking: why should he make $20,000 a year more than me? But when the law tries to limit shysters making $30 millions/yr, the little people at the $30,000/yr say: I don't want him restrained or taxed, after all, some day I may be in his shoes and I wouldn't appreciate Uncle Sam's hand in my pocket. This is the American Koolaid psychosis: don't go after the corporatists because they are VICARIOUSLY me!

    Our war on terror is nothing but broken down products of the military academies thinking: my horse has come in. And we, whose kids are not in uniform, are letting them send our nation's kids into a phone "war on terror" Crusade intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb. Until we stop our Four-Stars from incompetently destroying the peoples we are trying to save from the terrorists, turning the efforts of our mom and dad soldiers into nothing but orphans and widows on the home front we will get the America we deserve. We are doomed until the day we no longer allow the Pentagon to do with *our* patriotic kids in uniform what we would not allow them to do with our biological kids.

    From health care to banking, we are submitting to corporate cannibalism convinced that the wolves will satisfy their hunger before they ever get to me. Such people deserve to be eaten by the enemy who is not binLaden, but is us!

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